Another drug testing option: Lung-on-a-chip to test toxicity of cardiopulmonary drugs

How about this alternative to animal testing? Researchers created a lung-on-a-chip to function like real lungs.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor on

Back in June, Harvard University researchers announced a cardiopulmonary system that was designed to behave like real lungs. This week, the Harvard Crimson announced that the two Harvard researchers who created this lung-on-a-chip device got a $3.3 million federally funded grant to develop the lung machine to test cardiopulmonary drugs.

So what's the big deal about creating a device like this? Since the lung machine is supposed to act like the real organ, the researchers want to see if their mini-organ system can help drug companies test the safety of drugs.

Plus, it would eliminate the need to test the drugs on animals - and this would bring down the cost to get the pill out into the market and into your mouth.

“With this kind of tool, we can do all sorts of toxicity studies on new drugs and move to a... [new] model about how the lung and the heart work together,” Harvard researcher Kevin Parker said in a statement.

But Parker remains realistic about the whole thing, adding that it is going to be "hard as heck to pull off."

Nanoparticles and viruses creep into a person's capillaries through the lung's air sacs. The artificial lung device has a polymer that is made of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) to act as a membrane, blood-vessel cells that act like capillaries, and lung-cancer cells that act like lung epithelial cells, reports Popular Science.

The device seemed to take in nanoparticles the same way mice do when they are hooked up to a ventilator. The researchers want to use their custom-made organ to test drugs.

Again, not everyone is as hopeful about the lung-on-a-chip's true performance. Kelly BeruBe, a cell biologist at Cardiff University, told New Scientist that using immortalized cell lines isn't the same thing as using primary cells from real patients.

Well, maybe that's true. But it's worth watching to see if these Harvard researchers can get their lung-on-a-chip up to speed. If so, it might offer drug companies an alternative to animal testing.

Harvard is a good place for microfabrication. After all, Harvard professor George Whitesides pioneered the idea of lab-on-chip.


via Popular Science

Photo: Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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